Thursday, June 19, 2014

Berliner Sehenswürdigkeiten: Building Project

Each year in German 2 there's a unit on different parts of the city and giving directions.  Usually during this unit, I take a short break from the words like "Schloss" and "Bibliothek" to give them a tour of an actual city - Berlin.  We learn about different monuments within Berlin, a little bit about both the history and geography of Germany's capital.  It's a short cultural unit that ties in well with what we're doing grammar and vocab-wise.

German 2 was set to finish up the curriculum a bit early this year, so I came up with a project to take this unit a little farther and incorporate our friends in the Tech and Math Department.  I paired up with one of the other teachers and we designed a building project.  Students would work in groups of 3 to build scale models of different Berlin monuments.  I would cover all the history and geographical elements, and he would cover the math and building parts of the project.

After we had covered our usual Berlin unit, I had students form groups of 3.  This happened to work out perfectly because of our numbers, but now that I've done the project I think groups of 3 are ideal.  Groups of 2 would be too small (not enough people to help with the overall project), but groups of 4 would be too large (much more likely to have a group member who's doing nothing at any given time).

Once groups were formed, they got to pick their monument.  Here are the choices students got to pick from:

  • Funkturm
  • Schloss Charlottenburg
  • Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche
  • Kongresshalle
  • Philharmonie
  • Reichstaggebäude
  • Brandenburger Tor
  • Berliner Dom
  • Fernsehturm
  • Rotes Rathaus

Groups then had time to research their building.  Each group had to find out the following information:

  1. Photos: Front view, side view, rear view, and top view of their building.  A quick search will help with some of this, but a lot of groups ended up using Google Maps for some of the other views.
  2. Dimensions: Height, width and length of the building.  This will include multiple dimensions for more complex buildings.  More accurate dimensions are better as they move onto coming up with a scaled down version.  If you're not comfortable with the math, this is a great opportunity to work with the math department.  
  3. List of Materials: Taking into consideration the texture and color of their building, students came up with a wish list of materials.  This would include things like balsa wood, Styrofoam cones, or spray paint.  This list doesn't guarantee that students will get these materials - it just helps give students a starting point before working.  They might need to change this list depending on the availability of materials in the shop, or if they find out a material's not working out the way they thought it would.
  4. History: As an extension, students should look into the history of the building and find two interesting facts.

At this point, this is where my colleague took over.  We spent a few days a week in the shop, alternating between this project and the last vocab and grammar unit we were covering.  I would have to look into how many days students actually spent on construction, but it was probably around 10.  I think it could be done in less - I wasn't sure how much time to give students and I think they were a little slow getting started.  Next time we do this project, I would have specific deadlines every other day to keep students on track.

After the projects were done - this included construction, painting and for one group adding landscape - the buildings were brought to my room for display.  They look great (just check out the slideshow below).  German 2 students loved showing off their work and the other classes were very impressed.

The question of how to grade this was something I struggled a bit with.  Since students spent a lot of time on it, I wanted to make it worth a regular project grade.  But since construction isn't actually part of our German curriculum, I didn't want to punish students for not having skills that we don't really focus on.  I decided not to give any group below a C (again, their building capabilities aren't something I'm testing for).  If groups finished their entire building (all major parts - no missing domes or columns), they got a mid- to high-B.  For groups that didn't finish, I looked at how much effort they spent during our days in the shop.  If a group was more prone to slacking off or didn't seek as much assistance from the shop teachers, they didn't score as highly.  For groups that not only finished the building but were able to paint and add other details, they earned an A.  I'll probably work with the math and shop teachers to come up with a more detailed rubric for the next time we work on this project, but since this was so new I wasn't sure how to proceed this year.

Like the Rad von Glück game, this project is based on a presentation I attended at the Fall 2013 MFLA conference.  Somewhere I have my notes on the names of the presenters - I'll be sure to update this entry with that information once the school year has ended and I get time to sort through all my stuff!

I found my notes from this conference, but unfortunately the hand out does not have a name for me to credit.  I do know that it was from a presentation called "World Language Culture and STEM: Grow great culture lessons with STEM!"

- Frau Leonard

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